Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cut the Lines with Great Customer Service and Increase Retention

A new semester is about to start up and that means lines for students. Did you know that colleges lose as much as 3% of potential enrollment from students having to wait in lines.

You don't have to.

Here are some customer service tips to succeed where others will fail.

         Appoint an service assurance person expediter or two. Place them smack dab in the middle of any line such as on-campus registration or financial aid.  Have that person continually moving in and through the lines talking to students to assess your process and check their progress.  Authorize the person to make changes to serve students better and faster. Have the person check to see if the student is just in line to drop off a form or some information. If so have the expediter collect that so the students can get out of line. Process the form or information later.

         If a student seems upset in line, the expediter should go right to him or her and try "Can I help you?"  Move him or her away from the lines before the grumbling becomes viral.  Save the person's place in line.  Go to a quiet place away from others and hear him or her out. If you can solve the problem, do it right then and there. If npot, hear the student out, settle him down, then walk the student back into line. Say "thanks for letting me help you" so others hear.  That's the message to get out.

         Have the expediter also act like an good service-oriented airline agent during busy  travel periods. Review student paperwork to see if they are correct.  An airline agent expediter checks tickets and boarding passes in line to see if all is in order and lets you skip the counter. If everything is in order, and sends you to the correct gate.  Do the same.

Consider allowing students to step out of the process if all their material is in order.  Let them drop off their paperwork and payment information for your people to enter then or later on. Mail the acknowledgment to the student with billing and everyone is happy.

         Sure, but what if it’s a registration line and a section is closed or the information delivered is not what was requested and they're gone?  Call them that day and offer another section or explain what information is actually needed. Closed sections are a major source for walkouts.  But, when you provide the service of making the decision for them, odds go way up that you will keep them.

        Turn on-line into a party.  Hand out candy.  Provide free coffee.  Pipe in some music.  NOT MUZAK. Make it feel more like fun than the drudgery of standing in line. And don’t leave the walls bare. Put up some artwork, posters or something for people to read while in  line. Staring at bare walls just increases the feeling of wait time lost.

 DO NOT FORGET THE WORKERS!  Keep thanking them.Encourage them.  See if they'd like some coffee, a coke, juice, cookies, whatever. Take over for someone and let the person take five.  Make sure they know you appreciate their work.  If they are happy and feeling appreciated, odds are better they’ll make students happier

NRaisman &Associates has been providing customer service, retention, enrollment and research training and solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them since 1999. Clients range from small rural schools to major urban universities and corporations. Its services range from campus customer service audits, workshops, training, presentations, institutional studies and surveys to research on customer service and retention. NRaisman & Associates prides itself on its record of success for its clients and students who are aided through the firm’s services. www.GreatServiceMatters.com info@GreatServiceMatters.com 


Monday, December 23, 2013

Get Closer to Sudents to Retain More of Them

customer service, customer service in colleges, retention, academic customer service
After a fantastic dinner, I began to ruminate (yes, I used both my
bellies). The issue I was working to digest was the desire of students for more meaningful relationships with people at the college. Students want to increase their college experience by adding a dimension that has been lacking on many campuses nowadays. They wish to be more involved with the professors. No, not in that way! In ways like I had opportunity to when I was a charter class (first class in the door) undergrad at UMass-Boston.
The University of Massachusetts in Boston had just opened its doors. It was a brand new adventure in higher education that became an excellent experience. It was great school. So great that after orientation day the week before the start of classes we were told to go home for a week. Classes would start a week late because the building was not finished. (Yes. It’s 15 minutes for a fool professor, 10 minutes for an assoc. professor, 5 for an assistant and a whole week for a building.) 

One of the things that made UMass-Boston so great was no one knew any better. It was a new school with some new faculty; some of whom had never taught before. Some had not even been professors or been tainted by the rite de passage called the doctorate. In fact, my first English professor was Dan Wakefield, a wonderful teacher and professional writer but not an academic. He actually got to know us and was concerned that we enjoyed the book a week we read.
He did something really crazy. He invited us over to his apartment to sit and talk about books and writing. Dan did not know that protocol called for him to draw a line between he, an upper caste faculty Brahmin and we casteless students. He could be excused of course since he did not have the academic indoctrination experience. But I also had some other crazed English faculty such as Sean O’Connell who came to my wedding; Marty Finney who with Dan Wakefield called late one Saturday night from MLA to tell me I should be a lawyer and marry a beautiful blonde in my lit class; and Lee Grove of the five hour finals with yellow NECCO wafers glued on the page for a question on images of the sun in American lit who called in a panic asking me to meet him at Harvard Square to find some shoes he could wear at the open house he was holding for students that weekend. 

And it was not just the English Department. I have already written in an earlier article and in The Power of Retention about a brilliant and caring math professor Dr. Taffi Tanimoto. If it were not for Dr. Tanimoto I would not have graduated.

All of these teachers reached out to students and connected with them as people who cared and enjoyed connecting with students. And yes, I know they are not alone or this only happened at UMass-Boston and UMass-Amherst where Dr. Robert Creed, the head of Graduate English and I became and remain very close friends. 

In fact, during discussions and late night reminiscing at conferences with colleagues and friends, the one issue that will evoke the most positive discussion is the “one person who made college a good experience for you.” This leads inevitably to reminiscences of someone who reached out and made the person feel valued. The faculty member who treated me as a person. The administrator I could go to when things got crazy and I just needed someone to talk to. Or the adult you worked with in the bookstore who invited you to her home for dinner with her family. The stories of human contact outside of the formal roles and positions made school so much better. And for many, the anchor in their experience at the school that kept them there.

So, it is no surprise that when we do a customer service and retention audit at a school, students tell us they would like more out-of-class contact with faculty and others. We strongly agree with them since this is a very important retention and customer service activity that can reap solid positive results. In fact, we suggest that all colleges and universities create ways to bring students, faculty, administrators and staff together in informal and more personal ways. 

Bringing Students and Others Together in Ways HR Will be Comfortable
The student request to be able to get together with faculty outside of classes is one that can be easily accomplished perhaps but also one that HR and legal could see as problematic. The problematic aspect can occur, of course, when a faculty member and a student might become involved in an inappropriate relationship. But this can be overcome quite easily by providing opportunities to meet with a faculty member in a group and public space. For example, it could be very possible to set up a program for faculty and students to meet in a back table of the cafeteria or a side room to discuss a topic of interest to both. A literature teacher meeting with students to critically discuss a new book or movie; a science professor talking with interested students on some new scientific discovery that is in the news; an ethics prof discussing the public option in the health care bill or a couple of faculty members leading a discussion on the folklore and reality of vampires, and so on. These could be done informally by a faculty member just getting the word out at the end of class or by making these into a regular brown bag lunch series. It would of course help if the University supplied coffee or food to participants. Food is always a draw for faculty and students.

We further suggest opening these brown bags to being offered by staff and administrators as well. There are many talented and very bright staff for example who have many topics to provide information or how to’s on. The grounds people could be excellent sources of information on growing house plants in your room. There are likely crafts people who would be delighted to be able to teach students and colleagues their craft. And do not rule out intellectual skills that can be used to provide lively discussions between staff and students. By bringing staff and students together through common interests, Monmouth would overcome the barrier that exists when anonymity allows staff to be seen as “just a part of the University”.

Having faculty, staff and students share ideas and work together would increase understanding and empathy between customers and service providers and in so doing improve customer service significantly.
If this made sense to you, consider obtaining a copy of my best selling new book on retention and academic customer service

AcademicMAPS is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and customer service solutions to colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as to businesses that seek to work with them
We increase your success


GET A COPY OF MY NEW BOOK THE POWER OF RETENTION: MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION by clicking here. Conduct your own campus customer service retention seminars. 
“We had hoped we’d improve our retention by 3% but with the help of Dr. Raisman, we increased it by 5%.” Rachel Albert, Provost, University of Maine-Farmington

“Neal led a retreat that initiated customer service and retention as a real focus for us and gave us a clear plan. Then he followed up with presentations and workshops that kicked us all into high gear. We recommend with no reservations; just success.” Susan Mesheau, Executive Director U First: Integrated Recruitment & Retention University of New Brunswick

“Thank you so much for the wonderful workshop at Lincoln Technical Institute. It served to re-center ideas in a great way. I perceived it to be a morale booster, breath of fresh air, and a burst of passion.” Shelly S, Lincoln Technical Institute

Monday, December 16, 2013

Decorum in the Classroom is Important Customer Service

Though it will seem to cause some pain and hurt for some individuals on
campus the reality needs to be said. Students do not come to college to learn. They come to get a job. Well, to be trained and educated to get a job. They are not there to learn and grow though they will accede to that as a condition to getting the diploma they seek to get a job.

Students realize that college holds the key to that job. The diploma. Without the diploma they would not be able to get the job they want and by the way, for most of them nowadays that is almost any job in their field.

Sure there are a few who do not know what they want to do and there will always be a some art history and philosophy majors who may not say they are looking for a job but to just learn but they are also job seekers. They want to work in a gallery or go on to grad school so they can finally get a job as a professor. More likely at best a part time prof teaching something other than philosophy or philosophizing while pouring a cup of coffee but a job nonetheless.

Realizing that the students are coming to college to get a job should make us realize that they are going to be even stronger consumer-oriented people. They look at their paying tuition and fees and the like as part of a contract. I pay you money for services that you provide to get me to where I want to be. Want proof? Count the number of times you hear students say something like “I’m paying a lot of money to go here.” Or I pay your salary”. And even if that number is not yet huge just think back and realize that you are hearing it more and more now. That is a sign of a consumer orientation and of the students’ realization of a contract being written between the school and the student.

Students are there to get what they need to get a job. Just think about required courses too. Why are they required? So that students will take them. If they were not required students would not take them in favor of either getting more training in their future field of work or to skip them altogether and get out faster.  The argument here is not whether or not to be a well-rounded citizen students need to take required courses though there is a counter argument that many of them are either useless or just there to make sure some departments have a reason to exist and bring in money. The issue is not to question the value of required courses but to point out that students would not take them if they did not have to as a hoop to jump through to get to their goal.

One other point. Career colleges exist to a large extent because they are career-oriented. The profit sector would not exist in as large a bloc as it does if there were not a string demand for direct school to job training. The career schools pare down the required courses to minimum to get students to their goal in as quick and job-oriented pattern as is possible.  They also succeed because they realize that the job is the goal and invest in career placement activity far beyond what not-for-profit colleges and universities do.

This is not to say the career schools do it well or that some of their placement claims are anything but PFTA thinking. (PFTA? Pulled from thin air. The polite way of saying it here.) To continue being honest, many of the career schools have been questioned on their placement rates but they are not questioned on their focus on careers and jobs for their graduates. And that gives them an edge and a basis for their attraction and growth.

Realizing that students are job-oriented should make colleges and universities also realize that they need to be job conscious too. They need to focus more on career services as a basic customer service for students. They need to have people who do nothing but seek out jobs for graduates as so the career colleges.

They need to give up on the idea that career services just is a job taker when a company calls in looking for graduates to hire. They need to realize that just giving out sheets on how to write a resume is not enough and a simple free class on resume writing doesn’t do it for the current crop of students.  They want and need much more. Granted some colleges and universities are so well known for their graduates that they may not need as much career services work as others but even the top 306 name brand colleges are finding that smaller and smaller segments of their graduating classes are getting jobs after graduation. Also recognizing that the top schools have fairly strong alumni structures with the alumni hiring from their alma mater but even that is changing as businesses are becoming more selective and gaping after the best without as strong a sense of brand loyalty anymore as the available pool of grads grows larger.

When student say they left a college or university because it wasn’t worth it what they are saying is that they felt that the school would not get them to their goal of a job. It just was not worth the time and effort so they quit. Colleges and universities need to take a note from the career schools and expand their placement and career services functions. Considering that 34% of students leave a school because they just don’t think it is worth it should be a enough to awaken schools to the importance of career services as a basic customer service to students to aid retention.

Students also need to interact with career services from the beginning of their careers and not just at the end. They should write a resume each semester/ quarter that adds on the new skills and courses they have taken. This will allow them to have a well written resume after it is reviewed by career services as well as see the relevance of their coursework to the goal of getting a job. They should take interviewing classes to learn how t interview. They should also be taking work in how to be an employee.

This work can be done by providing appropriate decorum in the classroom which is after all their workplace at the time of being in college. Students should be required to act at a level that would be demanded if they were on the job in their area of chosen future profession. For example, on the job if an employee came in large each day he would not lose half a grade, he would lose a job. If an employee answered her phone in a business meeting, she would possibly be fired or at least reprimanded for doing so.  If an employee missed work without calling in and letting the supervisor know he or she were going to be out, that could be cause for being fired.

I am aware of at least one school that requires all its students to wear work appropriate uniform shirts as  a sign that they are preparing for a job. The Porter and Cable Institutes have all their student wear uniform shirts that designate what career path they are in. They also supply the students with a tool bag that has the basic tools they will need to do the classwork and be prepared to do the job when they graduate. And their placement office is always working to find, yes find jobs for their graduates.  This may strike some as a bit extreme. Making them dress appropriate to the job they seek but it is no different than having nursing students or other medically-oriented students wear uniforms or clothing appropriate to their future profession. Porter and Cable also have their instructors all wear Porter and Cable embroidered shirts to indicate they are also dressed for the appropriate job. They and their students are dressed for success.

The classroom is the workplace for students and should be treated as such. Part of the service we should be providing is teaching not just the skills to get them hired but what is needed to be a good employee and keep the job.

Customer service is not just smiling answering phones it is providing all the services the customer, the student, needs to achieve his or her goals. Just as we require courses, we should require good employee skills.

NRaisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them
We increase your success


Monday, December 09, 2013

Managers Need to Provide Customer Service Too

A huge segment of the population on campus that has a great deal to do with controlling the culture is the management group. Not senior executives but directors and such. These are the people who control the various functional offices that students encounter. Like the bursars, registrars and director of this or another office. They influence a major segment of the customer service culture since they set the tone for how people in their office should work how they interact with students and how they relate with their employees which is in reality a major factor influencing behavior.

We learn how we are expected to act towards other by how we are acted upon especially by our bosses. If our boss treats us and others coldly we are being taught that it is alright to be curt with those we work and interact with. Here’s an example.

There was an office in a university that was well known for being very rude to students all the time. Students dreaded to go there because everyone treated them as if they were an impediment to the work in the office when the real work was the students.  The employees were treated poorly, given little respect and were told that office work came before students. Besides, most of the student forms and work had been transferred to student operated kiosks supposedly to give students more control and options. But it was really to get the students out of the office. In fact when the office was mystery shopped during a customer service audit the receptionist actually told the shopper that she would like to help but was not permitted to do so. There was an electronic kiosk set up for these sorts of interactions and the shopper should use that.

Then the director of the office retired. Another one was hired and within a few months the office was known as a place in which students were welcomed made to feel important and they got their work accomplished with friendly people

Turns out that the first director was a very officious, rude person who treated her workers as if they were an impediment to her getting her own work done. As if they were students whom she did not like. She never thought of their needs; their lives; or the simple fact that they had lives outside and inside the office. They were just workers to her and that was reflected in the way they worked. They saw there were no rewards in being nice or helpful and in fact doing so could lead to sanctions so they did not go out of their way to try to be helpful or nice.

The new director came into the office and spent the best part of the first month getting to know her colleagues. Yes, colleagues. She saw everyone in the office as having value and an integrity that needed to be recognized and encouraged. She spent time simply talking with her employees and getting to know them. She encouraged them to take care of their personal business before coming to work but knew that this could not always be done so she was lenient in allowing employees to take care of business even if it delayed office business when possible. She did not bend over backwards but here is an example.

One of the workers had a young son at home who was quite ill with the flu. She told the employee that she should feel free to take an extra half-an-hour for lunch so she could go home and check in on then boy who was under someone else’s’ care at home. The employee left for work early but also came back early. She did not take the extra tie but felt important to have been offered it. She did not stay late that day since she wanted to get home to her child but when her son felt better she often worked late and harder. Why? Because her boss had shown that she cared and that she was important enough to receive some great employee customer service.

This office turned around under the new director’s direction. It became a place that students knew they would be treated well. She knew that if her people were going to provide great customer service it has to begin with her. She knew that offering to get someone who is busy a cup of coffee just embeds a sense that the needs of others exceed their own at times. This is a fine example of integrating good academic customer care into a system by a manager.

So what is the lesson here? Get to know and treat employees as if they are the customers that they are too. Managers should give them the correct attention and customer service  they need. Sometimes we forget that the people we manage are customers too and how we treat them will reflect on how they treat others.

NRaisman & Associates is the leader in increasing student retention, enrollment and revenue through research training and academic customer service solutions for colleges, universities and career colleges in the US, Canada, and Europe as well as businesses that seek to work with them
We increase your success